Firefighters knocked down three fires near Mazama ignited by two powerful thunderstorms on Tuesday, July 23, keeping them all under a quarter of an acre.
The fires all started on U.S. Forest Service land, although the Davelaar Fire was just west of the Mazama turnoff on Highway 20, said Matt Ellis, fire management officer for the Methow Valley Ranger District. The other two were higher on the ridge, one on Goat Creek on Goat Mountain and the other on Insulator Basin on Flagg Mountain. They were all detected around 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Smoke from the Goat Creek Fire was spotted Tuesday night, but that fire was more difficult to locate. Firefighters zeroed in on the fire on Wednesday morning after temperatures warmed enough to produce more smoke, said Methow Valley District Ranger Chris Furr.
All three blazes were inaccessible by road. Ten firefighters from the Forest Service, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, and Okanogan County Fire District 6 made the 15-minute trek to the Davelaar Fire. The other fires were in more remote terrain, requiring some 30 Forest Service firefighters, 15 for each blaze, to make a one-and-a-half-hour overland trek, said Ellis.
As of Friday (July 26), all three fires had been contained, said Ellis.
While these three fires remained small, the storms ignited another blaze 3 miles southwest of Stehekin, west of northern Lake Chelan. The Devore Creek Fire was called a “sleeper” fire because it wasn’t reported until Friday afternoon (July 26), when a trail crew in the Glacier Peak Wilderness spotted it, according to the InciWeb incident information system.
Smoke from the fire was visible in the Methow Valley on Friday afternoon and evening.
After a reconnaissance flight that put the fire at 5 acres, the Forest Service sent in rappellers On Friday. Because the fire is burning at 8,000 feet in steep terrain with heavy timber, the rappellers could not safely attack the fire.
By 5:30 p.m. on Friday, the fire was estimated to be more than 75 acres with “very active fire behavior including spotting and individual tree torching,” according to InciWeb. By Tuesday (July 30), the fire covered 150 acres, but overall growth has been slow.
On Saturday, a hotshot crew began reopening a community protection line built in 2015 on the southwestern edge of Stehekin, although prevailing winds are likely to push any fire growth east.
Aerial reconnaissance on Sunday and Monday showed low-intensity smoldering and creeping fire.
Because of the extreme terrain, lack of roads and other natural fire breaks, portions of the Devore Creek Fire will probably continue to grow in the North Cascades and could burn until rain or snow, according to InciWeb.
These are not the first fires of the summer, but all fires thus far have been minor and “on the lower-complexity side,” said Ellis. He credited good coordination and quick response between all agencies, as well as the periodic moisture and cooler-than-normal temperatures, for keeping this season’s fires small.
“How fortunate we are — with the amount of lightning strikes — to have the moisture that came with the systems and the moisture we had before. We would have had a lot more fires” from a storm like that, said Furr.
The July 23 storm systems ignited two dozen fires throughout Okanogan County and 10 more calls to check on smoke, according to the regional interagency communications centers.
The morning storm on Tuesday produced 36 lightning strikes in Okanogan County, but just a handful in the Methow Valley, said Ron Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane. The storm was more intense in Chelan County, where 194 lightning strikes were recorded. The lightning was accompanied only by a sprinkling of rain, Miller said.
The evening storm was more intense in Okanogan County, with 150 lightning strikes, about half north of Mazama and in the Pasayten Wilderness, and the other half north of Omak. That storm brought more rain, but generally not more than 1/10 of an inch, Miller said.
Against dark skies, the storm was quite impressive. “It was a good show for quite a while,” he said.